What Goes Down Our Drains?

UpstreamBy Terrah Baker

For the second year, local artists have been chosen to beautify the storm drains of NWA, with the hopes of educating the public about what goes into their storm drains and where it ends up.

Originally, storm drains were designed as mechanisms within urban and suburban environments to remove rainwater in order to prevent flooding, explained Jane Maginot, extension urban stormwater educator for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. They still do this, and well, with underground cement tunnels leading water away from our businesses and homes, but the water still has to go somewhere. And because it’s coming from our heavily populated areas, all of the pollution goes right along with it.

“The storm drain is a direct link to our streams and lakes. It ends up directly into our waterways,” Maginot said. “One car leaking oil isn’t a big deal, but when you have a city of 75,000, how many people are leaking oil?”

More oil is spilled each day by leaky cars than what was released in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in 2010, she explained. “That’s a huge impact to our waterways.”
Maginot said what they call non-point source pollution — sediment, oil, household chemicals, pet waste — are what they’re trying to bring attention to. That’s why choosing artwork that reflected the beauty of the waterways was important to the panel of judges who selected this year’s finalists. Maginot said the panel was looking for quality, but first and foremost an educational message.

“It needs to help people realize that the [nonpoint pollution] is going directly [to the waterways],” she said. So what kind of impact does the nonpoint pollution have on waterways? Well, that’s hard to say Maginot said, but just from what is known, a large one.

Things like pesticides from lawn treatment have direct impacts by killing wildlife and the insects needed for ecosystem health, while things like sediment are less direct, but most common.

“It makes the water not clear. So, if fish are swimming in water that’s not clear are they able to find food? No. Are they able to find a mate? No,” she said. One of Fayetteville’s biggest problems is pet waste, she explained. After a flood at an apartment complex in Fayetteville last year, the entire area was filled with dog feces, which puts bacteria and nutrients from dog food into streams in high concentrations.

“This creates algae growth, which obviously is not fun to recreate in, but it also creates problems for the aquatic habitat,” Maginot explained.

Make A Difference

“Make sure your car isn’t leaking oil. Wash your car on a lawn or a car wash. Pick up after your animals! Don’t litter. Be conscious of your landscaping, and if you have patches that are running away use a rain garden or rain barrel to channel water,” Maginot said.

Categories: Commentary